The fact that Stake Land played at FantasticFest is enough to make me interested. I have faith that any film qualifying for that festival has something interesting about it, whether I end up liking it or not. Stake Land is not to be confused with Skate Land, an ‘80s period piece coming of age drama.
Martin (Connor Paolo) narrates the story of how Mister (Nick Damici) guides him through the vampire apocalypse. Mister trains Martin in staking vampires, and they travel the wasteland on their way to New Eden. Along the way they encounter towns and outposts, and run afoul of The Brotherhood, a gang of apocalypse zealots.
The basic idea of the story is familiar, but I’m always up for another “surviving the wasteland” adventure. It could be zombies, vampires or just plain the end of the world, but in this case it’s vampires. My interest is always in what little treasures remain after it’s all gone, and Stake Land gives me everything from leftover beers to porno playing cards.
Mister is a real badass. He jump kicks and lands in cool poses. He’s the grizzled veteran who even sets traps for vampires to fall into. The vampire fights are good. One elaborate scene has The Brotherhood drop vampires from helicopters to attack a peaceful town. That’s not only impressive, but a really evil tactic.
The film features impressive wasteland roads and ghost towns, even a section of freeway gridlocked with abandoned cars. They can’t quite show national landmarks but it’s high production value to convey the end of society. When Mister and Martin stop in towns, there are actually moments of fun and happiness. That’s an area that The Road Warrior, The Road and any other post-apocalyptic thriller never really explored. Then when that respite is destroyed it’s even more tragic.
The somber musical score makes the film feel more indie than epic, although the music pumps up for fight scenes to give them a big action feeling. The people they meet on the road seem incidental. The nun (Kelly McGillis) shows the ultimate despair of the faithful. Belle (Danielle Harris) offers hope for a new generation because she’s pregnant, and she brings some light into world of pure survival. Jebedia Loven (Michael Cerveris) believes the vampires are instruments of God to purify the world, so he’s a dangerous nut job. All three remain familiar types in this genre.
I like the genre though and I was impressed by the story and details Stake Land presented. There are a few different ideas for how the world might continue, none of which are invalidated. Mister and Martin just press on so we see what’s left of the whole country. And then they fight vampires.